Press Release

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As the Authority goes digital with new initiatives, Chair Olatoye calls on tech industry for new tools to solve outstanding data challenges

NYCHA Chair & CEO Shola Olatoye Speaks at the White House's #OpportunityProject. Playback issues? Watch this video in your browser.

WASHINGTON, D.C.–– Today, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye joined innovators, local governments and community groups at the White House ‘Opportunity Project’ forum to discuss the Authority’s progress in using new digital tools to better serve residents and called for more tech partnerships to help improve public housing.

Launched in March by the Obama Administration, the White House’s Opportunity Project is a new open data effort to improve economic mobility for all Americans. The Project––which brings together private and nonprofit tech companies, academic institutions, and local governments––seeks to put data and tools in the hands of civic leaders, community organizations, and families to help them navigate information about critical resources such as access to jobs, housing, transportation, schools, and other neighborhood amenities.

Earlier today, NYCHA announced its new digital initiative to provide smartphones to frontline staff to improve efficiency of daily operations––specifically maintenance and repairs––as service requests will be assigned and addressed in real time.

Chair Olatoye’s remarks, as prepared for delivery (video available here):

This morning I want to talk you about why public housing matters, what the New York City Housing Authority has done with technology and open data, and what’s possible to connect the more 600,000 tenants who we serve.

First, some scale. NYCHA is the largest residential landlord in North America. 2600 buildings. 178,000 apartments, 3 million commercial sq ft. We house over to a half a million people directly or indirectly with a $3 Billion annual budget. If we were a city, we’d be bigger than Miami.

When we think our public systems: schools, transportation, even libraries, there is a badge of pride – especially New Yorkers - that we support such institutions. The same cannot be said about public housing. But this might surprise you – 1 in 12 New Yorkers is a NYCHA resident. The top three employers of NYCHA residents are the NYPD, the Department of Education, NYCHA itself. Literally, NYCHA is a lifeblood of our city. Each year, NYCHA contributes over $7 billion dollars to the City’s economy.

In other words, NYCHA is integral to the health of NYC. The city we love, would not exist without NYCHA.

Mayor Bill de Blasio charged NYCHA with creating a turnaround plan that would preserve NYCHA’s properties for current residents and guarantee that this precious public asset is here for the next generation of working New Yorkers. 16 months ago we released our new 10-year strategic plan, NextGeneration NYCHA.

As you can imagine, our size presents us with both incredible opportunities and challenges.

As part of our change process, we’re using technology to drive towards operational solutions, financial efficiencies and better connection opportunities for our residents.

But are we truly leveraging big data to solve operational problems to help us meet our vision?

We’re on our way to entering the digital age. We receive 10,000 calls per day to our CCC, open and close 2 million repair tickets per year and we have 11,000 employees. By the end of this year more than 3500 staff will have smartphones that allow them to open and close tickets with the customer ultimately signing off on the work. Think FEDEX. We will also meet our goal of getting almost 50% of our employees connected to company email. Yes, email people.

We have $17 billion capital repair needs and just $300 million in annual capital funds. Where do we begin? How do we prioritize? We’ve created analyses of most common repair issues, customer complaints and staff labor to create a capital planning continuum tool.

We’ve modernized how to connect residents to opportunity. Through our web application’s responsive design literally hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers can be connected to jobs, healthcare and childcare services with the click of button or a few swipes on their smart phones. The Obama administration’s ConnectHome efforts will connect add to our administration’s efforts to connect some 20,000 NYCHA residents with broadband access.

I submit to you that we have NOT figured out how to use big data to, for example,

Modernize the ordering and distribution of supplies using maintenance and repair data.Make our building’s energy usage responsive to resident occupancy and behavior patterns.Develop a 21st century sustainable waste management approach.

We have big data. We are swimming in data that we don’t have the capacity to truly leverage to connect our residents to greater opportunity.

We need you. We need technologists, philanthropy and folks who want to join the public sector to help us innovate and disrupt. Not for disruption sake, I mean we are stewards of public resources. Help us strengthen the pathway to opportunity that public housing has been for millions of Americans from the extraordinary, Lloyd Blankfein and Howard Schultz, to the ordinary, Ms. Noveless Scott, my grandmother.

So, we’ve issued the challenge. The risk of not responding is too great. The next generation of workers, your employees, our voters, are counting on you. I hope you’ll join us.

The Authority is focused on transparency and accountability by using data tools, such as NYCHA Metrics, to provide information on the number of open work orders NYCHA is addressing by development, wait times for routine repair, maintenance and skilled trades work; Section 8 Housing, vacancy rates and more. Originally launched in 2014, NYCHA is committed to working with partners to harness this data to become a more effective and efficient landlord.

Additionally, this year NYCHA was recognized as a leader in Information Technology by the Middle Atlantic Regional Council of the National Association of Housing and Development Officials (MARC-NAHRO) for its multiple digital initiatives enhancing customer service, including the MyNYCHA mobile app, the NYCHA Self-Service Portal, and the Digital Vans. This summer, NYCHA’s Digital Vans won NAHRO’s National Award for Excellence.

  • NYCHA Self-Service Portal: As part of the New York City Housing Authority’s goal to enhance customer service, NYCHA launched a Self-Service Portal in 2013 – an internet-based site that allows applicants, Public Housing residents, and Section 8 voucher-holders to complete many transactions online, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

  • NYCHA’s Digital Vans: NYCHA’s Digital Vans––computer labs on wheels––advance the NextGeneration NYCHA goal of improving quality of life by providing residents with increased internet access and improved digital literacy through tutorials. The Authority has three Digital Vans that visit 29 developments citywide biweekly. Over 9,000 customers have been served since NYCHA launched the Digital Van initiative in 2014—from seniors learning how to use a computer and opening email accounts, to children and teens doing research for their homework. One resident even earned a college degree using the Digital Van computers because she didn’t have access at home. In addition to this year’s recognition from NAHRO, last year, NYCHA’s Digital Van initiative was a semifinalist for the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Innovations in American Government Award.